As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.
30 April 1854 Arrival at Scutari
Lord Raglan, the British commander, first established his headquarters at Scutari, on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus from Constantinople before moving to Varna in Bulgaria in June 1854. The facilities on offer were not necessarily to the liking of the British officers, as Wellesley notes in his letter:
“We … arrived here yesterday morning and found our Guards just landing from their vessels at Scutari where the remainder of our men who are in number about 12,000 partly in Turkish barracks, whereof the dirt is great and wherein the animals are abundant….”
MS 63 A904/4/17 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his elder brother Richard, 30 April 1854
May 1915 On the Front Line
‘Soldiering of Sorts’ is Henry D. Myers’ autobiographical account of his time as Major in the Royal Fusiliers from 1913 to 1919. The extract below depicts his time at the front during the Second Battle of Ypres.
“The first few days of May were spent in hot, sultry and sometimes wet weather, providing fatigues for the Front Line during heavy bombardment, mostly in the distance… During my period at the Front prior to the Battle of Loos, I recollect no cases of cowardice, which a word in season would not cure, but nervous or mental breakdown, after prolonged bombardment and lack of sleep, was not uncommon.”
MS 116/8 AJ 253 pp. 39 and 40 Typescript of ‘Soldering of sorts’ – recounting experiences with the Royal Fusiliers by Major H.D. Myer, May 1915
May 1811 Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro
By March 1811 the French had begun a general retreat from Portugal, pursued by the Allied forces under Viscount Wellington. The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro began on 3 May when French forces, under Marshal André Masséna, attempted to relieve a French garrison in the besieged city of Almeida, close to the Spanish border. In the below passage, Wellington expresses his concern at the possibility of the French strengthening their forces in the region.
“It has been frequently reported that King Joseph was about to quit Madrid…the departure of the King whatever political effect it may have in Spain will relieve the French from the necessity of taking care of his person and will increase their disposable force particularly in the southern provinces. But if we should be able to obtain possession of Almeida, I hope to have it in my power to reinforce our troops in that quarter to such an extent as to render our operations at least in Estremadura, free from risk, whatever may be the force which the enemy may be enabled by circumstances to assemble.”
WP1/332 Letter from Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley, first Viscount Wellington, Villa Fermosa, to Robert Banks Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, regarding recent operations and the possible departure of King Joseph from Spain, 1 May 1811
2 May 1945 The death of Hitler
1945 witnessed the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz and with it a shocking revelation of the Nazi Final Solution. The Soviet army continued its offensive from the East whilst the allies established a bridge across the Rhine in the West and both armies raced to be the first to enter Berlin. The Russians won the race reaching the capital on 21 April 1945 which ultimately led to Hitler’s suicide. Mussolini was captured and executed two days later. The result was Germany’s unconditional surrender on 7 May 1945.
A quote from Samuel Rich’s journal expresses his feelings towards Hitler’s death.
“A full obituary of Hitler in The Times; so I opened the package of Irish lawn hankies given to me by Connie on August 13, 1939 upon which I had vowed not to wipe my nose while Hitler lived, and ceremoniously blew my nose.”
MS 168 AJ 217/41 Journal of Samuel Rich, 2 May 1945
4 May 1854 Establishing the allied forces in the Bosphorus
On arrival in the Bosphorus, Lord Raglan and the French commander, Marshal St Arnaud, deployed their forces in fortifying this region. Not all those involved in the organisation had as much active experience as Wellesley, who had just recently returned from service in South Africa.
“A number of our Artillery Transports are hourly arriving and are stationed about 4 miles from here, the bustle and confusion attendant on all these arrivals are immense more particularly as all the staff nearly are new and there is too much discussion and too little actual work. You can imagine I have had enough to do and undo.”
MS 63 A904/4/18 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife Annot, 4 May 1854